Methodology Guidelines on Life Cycle Assessment of Photovoltaic Electricity: 3rd Edition: IEA PVPS Task 12: PV Sustainability

Rolf Frischknecht, Garvin Heath, Marco Raugei, Parikhit Sinha, Mariska Wild-Scholten

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a structured, comprehensive method of quantifying material- and energy-flows and their associated emissions caused in the life cycle of goods and services. The ISO 14040 and 14044 standards provide the framework for LCA. However, this framework leaves the individual practitioner with a range of choices that can affect the results and thus the conclusions of an LCA study. The current IEA guidelines were developed to provide guidance on assuring consistency, balance, and quality to enhance the credibility and reliability of the results from LCAs on photovoltaic (PV) electricity generation systems. The guidelines represent a consensus among the authors - PV LCA experts in North America, Europe, and Asia - for assumptions made on PV performance, decisions on process input and emissions allocation, methods of analysis, and reporting of the results. Guidance is given on PV-specific parameters used as inputs in LCA and on choices and assumptions in life cycle inventory (LCI) data analysis and on implementation of modeling approaches. A consistent approach towards system modeling, the functional unit, the system boundaries, water use modeling and the allocation aspects enhances the credibility of PV electricity LCA studies and enables balanced LCA-based comparisons of different electricity producing technologies. The document discusses metrics like greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), cumulative energy demand (CED), acidification potential (AP), ozone depletion potential (ODP), human toxicity, ecotoxicity and ionizing radiation. Guidance is given for the definition of the energy payback time (EPBT), the nonrenewable energy payback time (NREPBT), and the impact mitigation potentials (IMP). The indicator energy return on investment (EROI) is described in a separate International Energy Agency (IEA) PV Power Systems (PVPS) Task 12 report (Raugei et al. 2015). The guidelines on the reporting and communication of the results serve the need for producing clear, comprehensive and transparent reports.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages34
StatePublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

See NREL/TP-6A20-88865 for fourth edition of this report; NREL's Garvin Heath is a task manager of IEA PVPS Task 12

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-6A20-65291

Other Report Number

  • Report IEA-PVPS T12-08:2016


  • guidance
  • life cycle assessment
  • methods
  • photovoltaics


Dive into the research topics of 'Methodology Guidelines on Life Cycle Assessment of Photovoltaic Electricity: 3rd Edition: IEA PVPS Task 12: PV Sustainability'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this